According to a new British public commission report, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justifications for joining the U.S.-led 2003 war in Iraq were “far from satisfactory.” Running 6,000 pages long, the report not only criticizes the decision to oust Saddam Hussein but the warplan itself, which lacked the kind of post-war blueprint that might have actually changed the country in a positive way.
The 2016 primaries showed us that even Republican voters who supported George W. Bush’s foray into Iraq back in 2003 are now changing their minds. Donald Trump, the winner of those primaries, has been one of the few Republicans willing to call the war a mistake and to blame Bush for the error. Not all conservatives are willing to go as far as Trump, but you won’t hear many of them saying the war was a great success. Perhaps they blame it on Obama’s withdrawal, perhaps they blame it on faulty intelligence, but they still acknowledge that there were (many) things we could have done differently.
But here’s the thing.
We don’t have a time machine that allows us to see what the geopolitical universe would look like today if Bush had not invaded. We don’t get to peek at an alternate timeline where Hussein remained in power. Too many of Bush’s (and Blair’s) harshest critics assume that, absent military action, today’s Iraq would be just another Middle East irritant. A problem, sure, but a relatively stable one. You know, the way it was in 2003.
This is a dangerous, unfounded assumption. Yes, Hussein ruled over a more coherent, stable Iraq than the one that exists today, but let’s not forget: he was a brutal, unpredictable dictator with a burning hatred for the United States. He shared much in common with Iran’s Ayatollah and North Korea’s Kim-Jong Un. If he were still in power today, he would – at the very least – be on the same path to weapons of mass destruction. Islamic terrorism is a huge threat, but it’s not the only one. Rogue states run by madmen are not to be ignored.
Put simply, it is possible that non-intervention would have been an even bigger mistake than the war. You can’t use that to defend Bush’s decisions, but it should be remembered when evaluating the criticism of those decisions. Bush was a leader. He took action.
Contrast that with Obama, whose steadfast commitment to doing nothing about anything spares him from 6,000-page reports…but could turn out to be the biggest foreign policy mistake in decades.